INTERNATIONAL NOTE - COMMISSION PUBLISHES PROPOSAL FOR ESTABLISHING A EUROPEAN CENTRE FOR DISEASE PREVENTION AND CONTROL (ECDC)

The European Commission has published the proposal, for consideration by the European Parliament, to establish the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)(1). The document makes the case for a European Centre based on the substantial increase in public health responsibilities of the European Union, the greater need for international collaboration in response to new health threats, and the results of three external evaluations on the operation of the current Community Network for communicable diseases. The existing Network has been created under the Council and the European Parliament Decision 2119/1998.

The Centre's mission will be to analyze and assess communicable disease and other serious health threats to the human population of the European Union, to provide advice to the Commission and Member States, and to enhance Europe's general capacity to protect health through communicable disease surveillance, prevention and control.

The document will be encouraging for professionals experienced in international communicable disease surveillance and control within Europe. The tasks specified for the Centre correspond very closely to the consensus that had been developed by national experts over the past 5 years, and by the Council of State Epidemiologists in particular. Moreover, no new or unexpected tasks have appeared in the document.

The tasks include:

  • Networking of organizations operating in the fields within the Centre's mission
  • Provision of scientific support and training
  • Facilitating a procedure for scientific opinions
  • Operation of early warning and response
  • Implementing a procedure for technical assistance
  • Identification of emerging public health threats and preparedness
  • Collection and analysis of data
  • Communications from the Centre

Within the first task of the Centre is the subtask of fostering the development of laboratory capacity, external quality assurance, and cooperation between expert laboratories, and so the processes implemented by the Centre for this subtask will have a substantial effect on the development of an international reference laboratory network in Europe.

The responsibilities of Member States in relation to the Centre are specified in draft Article 4 and include:

  • Providing the necessary data and information to the Centre in a timely manner
  • Using the Early Warning and Response System
  • Identifying recognized competent bodies that can help the Centre to respond to health threats
  • Seconding public health officers, including epidemiologists, to the Centre for various tasks including field investigations

The initial intention to keep the focus of the Centre technical permeates the document, though whether one considers 35 staff in year 1, rising to 70 in year 3, a "small" coordinating centre or not is debatable. It is also currently unclear how many of these staff will be made available by a simple transfer of existing technical positions within DG Sanco, as is the significance of distinguishing between "permanent" and "temporary" posts and "internals/externals", e.g. 12 permanent and 58 temporary in year 3, of whom only 6 are "externals".

A major function of the ECDC will be to support the dedicated surveillance networks, provide them with quality assurance, maintain their databases, and be the vehicle by which analysis of their data is communicated to the Community Network.

The document describes the proposed budget for the Centre in detail, including the administrative budget of  3.3 m in year 1 and  8.1 m in year 3. Particularly encouraging is the intention (apparent in the document) that the Commission will effectively delegate coordination of a substantial and growing operative budget to the Centre as soon as it is established (which is additional to the administrative budget), beginning with  1.5 m in year 1, building rapidly to  20.7 m in year 3. By year 3, therefore, the Centre would effectively be coordinating the disbursement of funds for dedicated surveillance networks ( 7 m per annum), training/placements ( 4 m per annum), scientific studies ( 2 m per annum), concerted actions ( 3 m per annum), expert meetings ( 2.8 m), plus  1.9 m for materials, equipment, information and publications - making up the  20.7 m annual operative budget.

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It is envisaged that a relatively substantial contingency budget should be available for responding to public health threats - of up to  5 m per annum when the Centre is fully operational. During the first 3 years this annual contingency budget is nested within the budget line for concerted actions.

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Should this level of resources materialise and the Centre manage to retain responsibility for the coordination of the use of these funds by networked national agencies and institutes, then the Commission's declared aim of a "small but influential" Centre should be achieved. Moreover, if the Centre achieves a position of influence within the Commission, then it could strengthen the applied public health perspective in other important areas, such as the Programmes of DG-Research, DG-Development, and ECHO, the Humanitarian Aid Office.

The publication of this proposal is a milestone in the progress of European international collaboration for communicable disease surveillance, prevention and control. Eurosurveillance will be monitoring the debate in Parliament closely and urges all professionals with an interest to be prepared to provide expert briefing to their members of the European Parliament (MEPs) should this be requested.

References

  1. European Commission. Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a European Centre [for Disease Prevention and Control] (presented by the Commission). 2003/0174 (COD). Brussels: European Commission; 16 September, 2003 (replaces version of 8 August 2003). URL: <http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/en/com/pdf/2003/com2003_0441en01.pdf>.

Source: Adapted from Eurosurveillance Weekly Vol 7, No 38, 2003


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